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Travel: U.S. eases access to Cuba

Fidel Castro and members of the East German Politburo view the border between East Germany and West Germany in this 1972 image from the German Federal Archive. (PHOTO VIA WIKIPEDIA).

Absurd U.S. policies echo totalitarian East German Cold War travel rules

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —News about the U.S. easing travel restrictions to Cuba made me think back to when  I was growing up on U.S. Army bases in Germany.

The Cold War and the Iron Curtain around eastern Europe manifested in very tangible ways. West Berlin, technically part of West Germany, was completely surrounded by Communist East Germany, and we couldn’t just hop into a car or on to a train and go there at will.

Instead, traveling to Berlin involved making special reservations on a so-called duty train, intended mainly for U.S. soldiers and their families stationed in Berlin. The train left Frankfurt late at night and traveled through East Germany in the dark, to prevent Americans from “spying” on East Germany during daylight hours. Continue reading

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Travel: Let’s help break down totalitarian walls!

Today's sleek, high-speed Intercity trains criss-cross Europe with impunity, but it wasn't always so easy. In 1989, thousands of East German refugees waited desperately for a train that would take them from Prague to the freedom of the west.

Story of German ‘freedom trains’ a good reminder of why we shouldn’t take our freedom to travel for granted

By Bob Berwyn

Speeding through a rainy German night aboard an Intercity train last year I got a quick reminder on why we should never take travel for granted. An article in the railroad magazine focused on the “refugee trains” that, in October 1989, carried thousands of East German fugitives from the German embassy in Prague to freedom in the west.

It’s hard to believe more than 20 years have passed since the Berlin Wall crumbled, but during our autumn trip to Europe, all the magazines and newspapers were full of reminders. The images are unforgettable. East and West Berliners reached across the wall to touch hands, and then worked from both sides with sledgehammers to demolish the concrete barricade.

The Communist regime of the former East Germany did not build the wall to keep potential enemies out. They had to seal the Iron Curtain to keep their own people in. Had the totalitarian dictators let people out, it’s a sure thing that many of them would have never returned. The simple and powerful desire of East Germans to come and go as they pleased played a big role in the dismantling of the totalitarian regime, something worth keeping in mind as we all blather on in our travel blogs about things that are, in the bigger picture, really quite trivial. Continue reading

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